Enhancing your UX designs with microinteractions

Chris Powers

June 19, 2020

5 min read

An effective user experience (UX) is one that establishes a real emotional connection with a user—ensuring them that they are interacting with a product designed by humans, for humans. Often overlooked, triggers and microinteractions represent an integral part of this well-rounded UX. Though perceived by many to be small details in the context of a larger UX, microinteractions’ impact on overall user behavior cannot be overstated.

What are microinteractions?

In his book “Microinteractions: Designing with Details,” designer Dan Saffer defines microinteractions as the “functional, interactive details,” of a product. They are “simple, brief, and should be nearly effortless.” Revolving around a single use case, microinteractions cater to a users’ innate need to be acknowledged.

Examples include the animated ellipsis that appears when a friend is typing an iMessage or the bar in your internet browser that shows the progress of your downloads. Put simply, microinteractions are the little flourishes that let users know a task is being completed and that there is an intended flow to what they are doing.

When implemented properly, microinteractions can help:

  • Guide users intuitively and efficiently
  • Provide immediate feedback
  • Give the user a sense of autonomy
  • Boost user engagement

Fundamentals of a microinteraction

Saffer outlines the main components of microinteractions:

  1. Triggers initiate microinteractions. The simplest example would be a toggle switch that allows users to turn a function on or off.
  2. Rules dictate exactly how a microinteraction responds to a trigger.
  3. Feedback lets users know that something is happening. Feedback can be subtle or overt.
  4. Loops and modes determine how the microinteraction changes over time, or in response to different circumstances.

What makes a good microinteraction?

Think of the login box on a web application that appears to vibrate when you enter an incorrect password. Or the illuminating ring that appears when your iPhone is searching for Bluetooth devices within range to connect to. What makes these so effective?

The best microinteractions integrate seamlessly with the overall theme of a UX. They should not be jarring in any way or divert the user from the established flow of an application or web page.

Often, the most effective microinteractions are subtle, gently guiding the user through a flow while providing tiny bits of delight. Good microinteractions save the user time, packaging information, and conveying it in a brief, concise manner. Solid microinteractions are built for repeated use. Users may grow tired of seeing the same animations, so it’s crucial that microinteractions be as subtle and effective on the 100th use as on the first.

Overall, effective microinteractions are, well, micro. They are unobtrusive flourishes that acknowledge the user, guide them along a path, and provide little bites of delight. They are important tools for engaging with users in dynamic, fun, and—most importantly—human ways.


Best practices for microinteractions

  • Keep it simple. Every click of a button doesn’t need to yield some impressive animation to wow the user. Deploy microinteractions where they make sense so as not to frustrate the user.
  • Keep it consistent. Ensure that all microinteractions fit in the context of your established UX/UI framework. A microinteraction should gel with the rest of the users’ impressions so as not to distract them.
  • Build for repeated use. Consider the long-term impact of microinteractions. What may have initially delighted the user may hold true through their entire experience with your application. Make sure your microinteractions deliver time and time again without annoying the user.
  • Be aware of standards and guidelines. When designing for mobile, it’s important to consider if the microinteractions you want to implement are compatible with the standards or guidelines of the platform you are designing for. Android and iOS have their own set of standards, make sure your microinteractions comply with each.
  • Don't be afraid to experiment. Implementing microinteractions is not a “one and done” scenario. Look for ways to constantly refine and improve. Good UX means adjusting to the changing needs of the user, and microinteractions are an essential part of this. Your team should feel comfortable tinkering and testing.

User-focused design

Interested in revamping your organization’s UX with intelligent microinteractions? Codal’s UX designers are experts at creating sleek and streamlined digital experiences. With a design process characterized by rapid prototyping and iterative user testing, Codal creates seamless and intuitive digital journeys that cater to all user types.

Learn more about Codal’s UX design capabilities.

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